Cincinnati Reds Immemorial: End of the Year Edition

The end of the year always bring about a lot of reflection and resolution. Since this spot is always a look back in Cincinnati Reds history, this post will focus only on the reflections from 2011.

When you don’t win a championship, reflections of the past year can be a bit disappointing. When you don’t win a division or the wild card, they extend far past mere disappointment. And when you don’t even have a winning season, reflections walk a fine line between normal frustration and the kind that boils.

Sill, there was some fun to be found at the Great American Ballpark during the 2011 season.

The glory of Opening Day, despite the chilly weather and overcast skies, arrived in Cincinnati with a fever unrivaled by most cities, the excitement a noticeable increase over the year before after the previous season’s division championship. Despite starting the season with two of their starting pitchers on the disabled list in Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey and despite early inning struggles from Edinson Volquez in the opening game, the first five contests included an exciting walk off finish and an unvarnished record for the home team.

It wasn’t until a close loss to the Houston Astros in the sixth game where the tarnish started to show and the foreboding absence of clutch hitting became a season long problem. Before they knew what happened, they came home from an average West Coast road trip and found themselves dominated by the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Arizona Diamondbacks to drop them to one game above a merely mediocre .500 team, though still in a tie for first place with the Cardinals, their next opponents.

After leaving St. Louis with a deficit behind the new first place team, the Reds wouldn’t place their pennant atop the Central again until May after they swept those same Cardinals at Great American. That would be the last time they reached such heights however. They left a May behind that included a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians and an emotionally and physically devastating loss to the Phillies in 19 innings. They found the initial days of June no better as an effort from Nick Masset, Bill Bray and Logan Ondrusek combined to blow a 5 run lead to the Dodgers in the 8th inning of a June 4th meltdown which eventually went on the books as a loss for the Reds after finally succumbing to Los Angeles in the 11th.

Success in the middle of June with a series win over the Chicago Cubs, a series split with the San Francisco Giants, and a series sweep of the Dodgers bled into the end of the month where the Reds were mostly brutalized during interleague play at the hands of the AL East. While the visits from the Blue Jays and the Yankees were gold when it came to piling up ticket sales, they were far less effective when it came to piling up the wins. And the trips into Baltimore and Tampa Bay proved equally unproductive in moving the Reds up or down the standings.

By the time they were meeting up with St. Louis and Milwaukee to start the month of July, they seemed to nearly be running on fumes. When they lost three out of four to the Brewers and Francisco Cordero blew multiple save opportunities in a row, the All Star Break was a welcome respite, but also a time when fans began to recognize the season was not shaping up to be any kind of an improvement on the 2010 campaign. As it turned out, their postseason aspirations had effectively died by that point, but the coroner was dragging his feet with the certificate.

That’s not to say there weren’t still moments yet to come that would provide great baseball highlights. Sure enough, the game after the All Star Break involved a tilt against the Cardinals and the fans bounced around the stadium as Brandon Phillips bounced around the bases to complete the highlight of the season with his game winning long shot into the left center field stands. Joey Votto continued to provide some of the sweetest swings in all of baseball whenever he got pitches to hit. The Reds ushered the Giants into town for a weekend series and broke out the brooms with a three game sweep. In August, they finally won a series against the Pirates, their only victorious series against the Pittsburgh team the whole season. Then, despite losing the game, the Reds played in one of the most bizarre venues you’d see all season as an impending hurricane forced the Reds and Marlins to play a day-night doubleheader in a Sun Life Stadium that had less life than its name implied, housing less than 350 total fans during the day game.

For more bright spots, Cueto developed well and showed signs of becoming an ace despite finding himself back on the disabled list to end the year. And while Dontrelle Willis’ numbers were far from spectacular, his starts were some of the most exciting of the year, whether it was while he was on the mound, fielding a ground ball and performing some acrobatic feat toward first or raking hits into gaps from the plate. And while Drew Stubbs did strike out over 200 times, he did push for his personal best with 40 stolen bases. Jay Bruce, while not able to extend his incredible May throughout the season, did find a way into the hearts of Reds fans once again with another September walk off homerun added to his credit, this time against the Cubs.

No, 2011 may not be the favorite season in Reds history for anyone to reflect upon, but like any baseball season, there was much that happened to make it a fun and interesting ride. Between being hopeful about the health of the team going forward and the acquisitions they’ve made so far, 2012 is shaping up to be a better experience than was 2011. And if that’s the case, we can expect it to be a very Happy New Year.